PENINSULA WOMAN: Cozy getaway for Peninsula visitors

DUNGENESS — When Berta Warden caught sight of an old barn on Marine Drive, her natural blend of optimism and imagination kicked in.

She envisioned a bed-and-breakfast, a cozy hideaway with a stunner of a view — make that two views, to Dungeness Bay out front and the Olympic Mountains out back.

Warden also saw somebody else running this B&B. She and her husband, Barrie, newly retired from the Boeing Co., wanted simply to live in the bayside house for some years, and when they grew too elderly to care for it, sell the place to another couple. This couple would have a ready-made inn, she thought.

So the Wardens moved here from Kent in 2003 and set about restoring the old house. Berta brought scores of her beloved roses, transplanted them and watched with delight as they flourished, filling her new garden with reds, pinks, yellows and corals.

But then a tragedy was visited on the Wardens. Barrie was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. He died in February 2007, at age 70. This month, Berta Warden is marking her fifth Christmas season without her mate.

She still has lots of photographs of him on the wall above her staircase.

“He was quite a guy,” she said, eyes bright with tears.

Today, Warden is living a new life, a life that did not go according to plan, but that is nonetheless filled with joy.

After Barrie’s passing, she went looking for volunteer work — and found it fast, at Olympic Theatre Arts, where she painted sets, baked treats for fundraisers and found new friends.

She also went to the Fifth Avenue Retirement Center and invited elderly residents to her home and garden for high tea. They still come by the vanload in summertime, to sit and sip among the roses, which hit their fragrant peak in June.

Warden is also a longtime master gardener who has worked in the demonstration garden adjacent to Carrie Blake Park. To say she has a green thumb would be like saying Ella Fitzgerald has a nice voice.

In the past couple of weeks, Warden’s roses have been flowering as vigorously as ever, as if to defy December’s cold, gray days.

“Looking out my window, I can’t believe how many are blooming,” she said on a recent afternoon.

These roses are just part of the picture Warden has realized here. In August 2010, she opened the Dungeness Barn House bed and breakfast inn, after a multifaceted makeover of her place that involved her artist’s eye — and help from siblings and friends old and new.

Warden’s sister Renee Winterhalter of Stanwood, for example, made the stained-glass window over the great room. Her brother C.T. Grubbs, a building contractor in Granite Falls, was the remodeling right-hand man.

Warden’s friend and fellow Master Gardener Donna Marie “Teva” Tetiva, as well as Nicholas Pruznick, a volunteer at Olympic Theatre Arts, have also been at her side.

Tetiva knew a kindred spirit when she saw one. Like Warden, she brought nearly 200 rose bushes with her when she moved to her home just east of Sequim. When Warden’s husband became ill, Tetiva stuck close by; she was, as she describes it, a bird on the fence.

In the years since, the women have pruned roses together, of course; “we’ve become joined at the hip,” Tetiva quipped.

“I’m a very protective kind of person. When you know Berta, you know she’s a strong woman, in every way. But you want to make sure nobody hurts her . . . she is pure with kindness. She searches for the best in people and never has a sour word about anybody.”

Warden’s work ethic has also impressed her friend.

In her house and garden, “she could probably work three men into the ground,” Tetiva said.

The work is paying off.

Earlier this year, Warden’s friend and fellow innkeeper Bonnie Kuchler, co-owner of Sea Cliff Gardens Bed & Breakfast just outside Port Angeles, told her about TripAdvisor.com.

There’s this website with reviews of inns, restaurants and tourist activities, Kuchler told Warden. And you’re at the top of the heap when it comes to B&B reviews.

Warden was pleasantly shocked. She acknowledges, though, that she knows how to make her guests feel at home, knows how to cook up a breakfast they will remember fondly for months, maybe years to come.

Among the breakfast dishes guests have raved about: the Dungeness Barn House light crab Benedict, which begin with a baked Portobello mushroom cap. Then come the layers of sauteed spinach, grilled tomato, lots of Dungeness crab and a poached egg, delicately drizzled with Hollandaise sauce.

During Warden’s 32-year career in the personnel department at Boeing, she learned quite a bit about people. And on her lunch hour, she provided many co-workers with gardening advice and often shared her cooking expertise — so much so that her nickname became Martha of Kent. She was King County’s Martha Stewart, without the controversy.

Warden now has guests who return again and again; guests who gave their grown children gift certificates so they too could stay at the Dungeness Barn House. Last summer, she had a family come from Paris so their 14-year-old daughter could see Forks, the setting for the Twilight novels.

After one night in Dungeness, Warden said, Mom and Dad decided to stay there for the rest of their time on the Olympic Peninsula and take a day trip to Forks rather than overnighting there.

Warden herself, even after nine years here, is not jaded about the region’s allure.

“I am absolutely in awe of the Olympic Peninsula,” she said.

Warden looks forward to further fixing-up of the Dungeness Barn House. She’s got the place decked out right now, with lights in the apple trees, along the fences and throughout the garden.

But next weekend will be blacked out — not in terms of lighting, but in bookings. She reserves Thanksgiving and Christmas for her own family, which includes her two sons Steve and Bryce and her granddaughters. The youngest, 5-year-old Abby, has renamed the former hayloft above the great room “the Princess Loft.”

In setting aside holidays for family, Warden is continuing what her own grandparents taught. Her grandmother Amanda and grandfather Dick Ludwig had a farm in Rainier and were always doing for others. She remembers her grandfather chopping wood for friends while her grandmother baked cookies, and they wouldn’t let guests leave without a bagful of fresh produce from their garden.

“I never thought I would be the one doing the bed-and-breakfast,” Warden, 65, admits. But I love to cook. And I love people.”

She was always the aunt, sister, mother and grandmother who hosted the family gatherings. So in her second career as a professional innkeeper, Warden’s approach is simple.

“I decided: I’m just going to treat everybody like my family and friends.”

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